Theses Doctoral

Listening to the Voices that Sing a Different Song: Mathematically Successful and Socially Conscious Students of Color

Johnson, Rebecca Lee

This study analyzes how a group of six high school freshmen responded to engaging in Teaching and Learning Mathematics for Social Justice (TLMSJ), which is one possible articulation of criticalmathematics. Commonalities among this diverse group of students were that they were all students of Color from low socioeconomic status, enrolled in Algebra 1, attending the same Title I public high school. These students participated in an eight-week-long after-school program named “Socially Aware Algebra Students” (SAAS), where they investigated a variety of social injustices through doing Algebra 1 mathematics. This program was designed and facilitated by this study’s author, whose role would be considered practitioner–researcher.

The purpose of this dissertation is to address the need for feedback on TLMSJ from a diverse group of students of Color. Specifically, this study sought to determine the participants’ perceptions both of engaging in TLMSJ and of the social justice topics that were investigated as well as the participants’ mathematical learnings that occurred during the SAAS program. This qualitative ethnographic case study relied on the following data sources: interviews, questionnaires, observations, journal entries, student work products, and pre- and posttests. Findings suggest that students’ reactions to this particular version of learning mathematics through social justice are as varied as the students themselves. While all participants reported increased mathematical skill and confidence due to their participation in SAAS and all enjoyed learning mathematics that was related to real-life topics, not every participant was interested in learning about social injustices. Secondly, the post-assessment data did not display measurable growth, despite the participants’ perceptions of their mathematical improvement.

These findings suggest that TLMSJ, despite being the most common articulation of criticalmathematics, may not be the most effective means by which mathematics teachers can render their teaching socially just. The study concludes with various recommendations for mathematics teachers interested either in teaching mathematics through social justice topics, or in teaching mathematics in ways that are aligned with the spirit of social justice.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2020